Boldly Going… Again

I always say that “I’m not really a Trekkie”, but I guess I’m lying. I don’t own a handmade Starfleet uniform or go to the infamous conventions or speak Klingon (beyond knowing p’tock is what you call someone when you’re pissed at them, because somebody says it every time Klingons show up), but I do know an inordinate amount of random trivia and have seen every episode of every show. I also thoroughly enjoyed J.J. Abrams 2008 reboot film, expressly for the reasons that the more “serious” Trekkies hated it: it shook things up, made it about traipsing around space saving the day and not stern diplomatic negotiations or deep philosophical nonsense. In short, he made Star Trek more like Star Wars (And here’s hoping he can also make Star Wars more like Star Wars). The latest film, Star Trek Into Darkness is no different. As my mom would say, it’s a “kick in the pants”.

More than that, despite being the continuation of a continuity intentionally separated from the rest of the Star Trek mythos, it is a brilliant tribute to the undeniably greatest film, The Wrath of Khan. The references are all good for a laugh or a tear or a cheer, though it is sometimes a bit too much of a wink-and-nod. One scene even plays out nearly note for note, and line for line from the older movie.

However, the actors are brilliantly cast, and fill out their respective roles with energy and panache, though Zoe Saldana’s Uhura seems to be relegated to team fretter. They have clearly embraced these characters we never thought we’d see portrayed by anyone else. Benedict Cumberbatch’s role as the villain John Harrison is splendid, as expected, though he seems to still be playing Sherlock Holmes.

The effects are spectacular, infamous lens flares and all, and were clearly planned with 3D in mind. The greatest shots combine filmed actors with CG ship models seamlessly, which is an effect many attempt, but few succeed. I’ve never been a big fan of 3D, and Abrams himself has publicly derided it, but in this case he’s brought us both around to liking it.

The greatest flaw with the film is the marketing, though this is a common Abrams shtick. He loves a good mystery, even if it isn’t really necessary. And there’s a “big” reveal in this one, one which makes it difficult to discuss the film without blowing it, but it’s completely unnecessary. The thing is, we learn the twist fairly early on, and closet Trekkies such as myself can pretty much guess it going in, and there are more interesting twists later. This is no “Vader is Luke’s father” or “Bruce Willis is a ghost”, you’ll be able to see it coming, and just have to wait for the actual reveal. I guess I don’t feel like blowing it, like I did the twist in Iron Man 3, because it’s not as controversial, and I suspect my audience is more likely to have not seen this one yet.

Anyway, the other big news this week was Microsoft’s announcement of the next generation console, the XBox One, a name I am fond of mostly because it was never rumored in a veritable bonanza of names that were floated at us, and people can finally stop asking me about the “XBox 720”. Shut up. It isn’t called that. Following the announcement, there has been a certain amount of grumbling and groaning from the “gamers” of the internet, because the big push wasn’t the whizz bang graphics, or what new games it’ll have, but how the speech recognition, multitasking, and connectivity work. “Remember when video game consoles were about video games?” seems to be the refrain. I do. Guess what? That was years ago, where have you been? One of the reasons the XBox 360 has become so successful is because it has embraced the dreaded “casual” audience of grandmas and little children and added features such as Netflix to make it more than a box that plays shoot-’em-ups. To be honest, lately I’ve been using it more as a Netflix and DVD player than anything else, since I’m between games at the moment. The XBox One is just what it’s name is trying to imply: an all-in-one game system, cable box, Blu-ray player, and couch computer.

The real problem, which a few of the more observant have picked up on, is the “always connected” mentality. Microsoft expects this machine to be connected to the Internet most of the time, which is not reasonable for everyone, especially here in Alaska, where infrastructure is still sketchy. The specter of “no-used-games” has morphed into “pay-a-fee-to-play-used-games” which is just as bad for us. No one wants to buy a game from us, go home, and then pay some more through their XBox just to play it. It may be time to start considering exit strategies from GameStop, because if this thing takes off, it will kill the used game market.

Will I buy one? Of course. Not right away, mind you. The first batch of any new tech is buggy as heck, so I’ll wait until the dust settles and there are enough games for the thing that I really want to justify it.

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